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Renaissance and Golden Age Author(s): E. H. Gombrich Source: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol.

24, No. 3/4 (Jul. - Dec., 1961), pp. 306-309 Published by: The Warburg Institute Stable URL: . Accessed: 01/10/2013 18:58
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Relazione Renaissance, written for the Tenth InterPerhaps the best example of this link which national Congress of Historians in Rome, exists in historiography between the person of Professor Cantimori pointed to the notorious a ruler and the character of an age is the case difficulties which the historian experiences mentioned by Professor Cantimori-what, when he wants to define the links between for want of a briefer label, may be called the economics, politics, literature and the arts. Medici myth, which makes the Medici in "It would help us to understand these con- general, and Lorenzo in particular, directly nections," he said, "if we could again focus responsible for a magic efflorescence of the our investigations on individual statesmen human spirit, the Renaissance. To do Roscoe and their activities without, of course, idoliz- justice, it was not he who invented what a ing their patronage alla Roscoe-but so far we later popularizer, Selwyn Brinton, called the have not even got a critical edition of Lorenzo "Golden Age of the Medici". de Medici's correspondence,and"-he said so When Roscoe wrote he had, among others, queste cose . . . si puo far cosi the example of Voltaire who, as Professor wisely-"in facilmente della retorica."2 Ferguson has shown us, brought the idea of Perhaps the historian can best cope with Great Ages under Great Rulers into the this type of rhetoric if he makes it, in turn, an stream of historiography. In his Siecle de object of rational investigation. I should like LouisXIV, Voltaire lists three ages preceding to follow Ernst Robert Curtius3 rather than that of his hero as the only other eras worthy Konrad Burdach4 in my approach to the of attention to men of taste: those of Alexanformula of the Golden Age. And I propose der, of Augustus, and of the Medici, "une briefly to illustrate this aspect by drawing famille de simples citoyens" who did what the attention to the rhetorical roots of that idoliz- kings of Europe ought to have done, and ing of Renaissance patronage mentioned by gathered in Florence the scholars the Turks Professor Cantimori. I believe it to be a had driven from Greece. reflection of the Vergilian formula. In Vergil, But of course the link is older. Think of the the Golden Age is the age of a particular beautiful inscription of I715 in the Palazzo ruler. It is the divine child of the Fourth Medici Riccardi which Roscoe quotes: Eclogue who will being the Empire of peace "Hospes-aedes cernis fama celeberrimas ... and magic prosperity, and it is Augustus who, hic litterae latinae graecaeque restauratae, in the Sixth Book of the Aeneid,is prophesied mutae artes excultae, Platonica philosophia to do the same: restituta ... aedes omnis eruditionis quae hic revixit." Or think of the early seventeenthcentury fresco cycle in the Palazzo Pitti by 1 This paper was read at the Tenth Historical ConGiovanni di San Giovanni and Furini dedigress in Rome in I955. A brief advance summary cated to Lorenzo de Medici's glory, where he having been published in the Relazioni del Congresso di ScienzeStoriche, Internazionale VII, 1955, PP. 304-5, no is seen providing a safe haven for the Muses purpose would have been served in producing yet fleeing from Mohammed's hordes and estabanother reduced version of these remarks for the Atti the Golden Age. At his death, as the of the same Congress. The publication, meanwhile, of lishing below explain, "La pace e Astrea rhymes "The on as Medici Patrons of Art", Early my paper tornon dolenti al ciel". But this cycle, too, Italian RenaissanceStudies, ed. E. F. Jacob, London, I960, and above all of Mrs. Alison M. Brown's study only continued a tradition which had been esof "The Humanist Portrait of Cosimo de' Medici, tablished in the sixteenth century by Giorgio Pater Patriae" published elsewhere in this number of the Journal, may now provide a somewhat firmer set- Vasari. It was Vasari who, in his enormous fresco cycles of the Palazzo Vecchio, which ting for this sketch. 2 Relazioni, IV, p. 327. Plans for the publication of are still largely unpublished, developed the Lorenzo de' Medici's Epistolario have meanwhile far pictorial tradition of dynastic pride which advanced under the joint auspices of the Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento, The Renaissance linked the ruling Medici, Cosimo I, with the Society of America, and the Warburg Institute (editors age of Saturn and the Horoscope of Augustus, P. G. Ricci and N. Rubinstein). and wove a subtle net of mythological Literaturund lateinisches 3 E. R. Curtius, Europdiische references between the glories of his ancestors Mittelalter,Bern, 1948. Renaissance,Humanismus, and the offspring of Saturn which he ex* K. Burdach, Reformation, Leipzig, 1926, p. 53 and pp. 59 ff. plained in his Ragionamenti.It was Vasari,

n his

on the periodization of the

Hic vir, hic est, tibi quem promittisaepiusaudis, AugustusCaesarDivi genus, aureacondet Saecula ...

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RENAISSANCE AND GOLDEN AGE further, who inspired the idea of the first Accademia del Disegnounder the patronage of the ruling Medici Duke and thus even provided an institutional frameworkfor the ruler to exercise a tutelage over the arts such as was postulated in the myth. And it was of course Vasari who contributed most to the popularization of the Medici myth in his VitedePittori, Scultori first published in 1550 and edArchitetti, dedicated to Cosimo I in words which anticipate the inscription on the Palazzo: "si puo dire che nel suo stato, anzi nella sua felicissima case, siano rinate (le arti)". Throughout his biographies Vasari is at pains to give the impression that the arts owed their rise and prosperity directly to the intervention of the Medici-the climax comes in the story, for which there is no contemporary evidence, that Lorenzo founded an art school for the study of antiques in his garden, and there discovered the genius of Michelangelo, who outstrips the ancients.5 In Vasari's Life of Botticelli we also meet the tell-tale phrase: "Ne tempi del magnifico Lorenzo"-it opens -"che fu veramente per le persone d'ingegno un secol d'Oro". It was my interest in Botticelli's life which first brought it home to me how important it was to discover the true Lorenzo under the incrustations of the rhetorical formula, for in that instance Horne had shown6 that the painter's true patron was not the Magnifico but his cousin and rival Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco. Such facts about Lorenzo's patronage of the arts as are known, pending that edition of his correspondence which might throw fresh light on this problem as well, are conveniently listed in Wackernagel's book on the of artistsin Quattrocento Florence. Lebensraum We would need similar sober assessments of his patronage and expenditure for letters, music and pageantry and such data as we might gather about the relative costs of horses, falcons and humanists, to penetrate the cloud of incense. But I do not want to be misunderstood. It would not serve our purpose if the somewhat sycophantic tone of court historians, past or recent, provoked the modern historian into an attitude of sceptical debunking. The Medici myth was not merely the product of flattery and nostalgia, though
5 A. Chastel, "Vasari et la LUgende Medic6enne", Studi Vasariani (Atti del Convegno Internazionale per il IV Centenario della prima edizione delle Vite del Vasari), Florence, I952. See also my paper on "The Medici . . .", quoted above. Early 6 H. P. Horne, Alessandro Filipepi, London, 1908,


nostalgia, as Professor Felix Gilbert has shown,' certainly played its part in the early sixteenth century, the time of Macchiavelli and the Orti Rucellai. It is precisely my point that the myth can be traced back to Lorenzo's own age in the lines dedicated to him by the poets and poetasters of his circle. Here is Bartolomeus Fontius:8
Tempora nunc tandem per te Saturnia surgunt ...

Nunc surguntartes,nunc sunt in honorepoetae...

or Aurelio Lippi Brandolini:

Aureafalciferonon debent saeculatantum,
Nec tantum Augusto saecula pulchra suo Aurea, Laurenti, munere facta tuo ...9

Quantumnostratibi, tibi se deberefatentur

When we call these tributes flattery on Vergilian lines we do not, perhaps, say very much. For may they not rather have been propaganda? Propaganda, as we know to our cost, is the art of imposing a pattern on reality, and to impose it so successfully that the victim can no longer conceive it in different terms. Such a pattern will be the more likely to exert its spell the deeper it is rooted in tradition, the more affinity it has with the typical nightmares and dreams of mankind. The Messianic Ruler who brings back the Golden Age is precisely such a perennial dream,'0 and we have seen that it did exert the spell on subsequent generations who saw the teeming life of the real Quattrocento fall into this deceptively simple configuration. When did this spell begin to work? For, unlike flattery, propaganda need not be cynical. Those who propound it may be its first victims. Now it certainly was in the interest of the humanists and writers who surrounded Lorenzo to hold up to him that ancient image of liberality and bounty as the surest way to the people's heart. As Poliziano wrote to him from Venice: "Questa impresa dello scrivere libri Greci, e questo favorire e docti vi da tanto honore e gratia universale, quanto mai molti e molti anni non ebbe homo alcuno.""1 Was this the golden age, or was it rather the
7 F. Gilbert, "Bernardo Rucellai and the Orti Oricellai", Journal of the Warburgand Courtauld Institutes, XII, 1949, pp. 10oI ff. and ed. I. L. 8 Carmina, F6gel JuhAsz, Lipsiae, 1932. * Printed in Roscoe, The Life of Lorenzo de' Medici, 4th ed., London, I8oo, Appendix L, p. 285. 10 M. Eliade, Le Mythe de l'dternel retour,Paris, I949; derAbendliindischen F. Kampers, Vom Werdegange KaiserK. Borinski, Die Weltwiedergemystik, Leipzig, I924; in den neueren burtsidee Zeiten, Munich, i919. 11Roscoe, loc. cit., p. 289.

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NOTES phenomenon that an "uomo disarmato", as Macchiavelli calls Cosimo, a mere banker and city boss, should suddenly be invested by the poets and orators with all the panoply of an ancient Imperial Myth which, for instance, in Dante's Monarchy applies to the World Ruler alone.16 But let us put ourselves into the shoes of a poet wanting to praise Cosimo. Conventionally there were two themes to enlarge upon in the eulogies of the mighty: the fame of their ancestors and their heroism in battle. The very fact that these well-worn formulae could not be used seems to me significant. It is always the illegitimate ruler who needs the most metaphysical props for his power and propaganda. It may be no accident that before Cosimo the Vergilian claim is applied to the notary Rienzi by Petrarch, just as self-appointed leaders in our days have surrounded themselves with the mystique of ancient prophecies fulfilled. I do not claim that the novelty of his situation alone explains the frequency of Vergilian references to Cosimo. The image, as we know, came natural to a generation used to the topic of laussaeculiand to metaphors of a new era. But in one sense Cosimo did represent such a new era-the uomo disarmato without ancestors and without claim to warlike prowess, indeed even without overt claim to power, would make the poet cast about for some extraordinary formula. And was their feeling quite unjustified, in the face of such a person, that the age of iron had begun to yield to the age of gold-albeit in a slightly different sense? To quote ProfessorJacob's relazioneon that very point: "The Europe of chivalry had gone, the armies were paid and the risks of war calculated in financial terms.""17No wonder that Cosimo, in Giovanni Avogadro's eulogy, is made to say: "Si numi vincunt, hercle est fas vincere nobis"'8 -"If money can conquer, by jingo we shall". It is a thoroughly unheroic picture. But this is precisely the aspect of the Renaissance which Professor C. Backuis so aptly characterizes as "civism".19 Wars, of course, there were, but by and large in the eulogies of
16 De Monarchia,I, xiii; Kampers, op. cit.; Burdach, Leipop. cit.; P. E. Schramm, Kaiser,RomundRenovatio, zig, 1929; R. Bonnaud Delamare, L'idle de paix ii Paris, i939; F. A. Yates, "Queen carolingienne, I'6poque and CourElizabeth as Astraea", Journal of the Warburg tauldInstitutes,X, i947, PP. 27 ff. 17Relazioni, 341. p. 18 In Giovanni Lami, Deliciae Eruditorum, XII, Florence, 1742, p. 146. 19 Relazioni, pp. 536-9.

discovery of the power of public opinion? Of a class of supporters much easier to buy and keep happy than soldiers ever were? That Lorenzo tried to live up to this image there can be no doubt. May he not even have accepted it as true? He certainly used it in his own poetry:
d'oro6 l'etA,paradisoterrestre, e quivi il primosecol si rinnuova...12
Lasso a me! or nel loco alto e silvestre Ove dolente e trista lei si truova

One cannot help suspecting that love conventions and political aspirations were fused in his mind when he selected for his joust the motto, "le tems revient"-the French and chivalrous version of Dante's "il tempo si rinnuova". As a matter of fact Lorenzo could hardly help seeing himself in the role of a second Maecenas or Augustus. He had been cast for this role by the poets while he was still a little boy; he had inherited it from his father Piero,13whose patronage, at least of the arts, may have been much more substantial than his own, and, most of all, from his grandfather Cosimo of whom Ugolini Verino sang:
Hic sacroscoluit vates, hic aureanobis
Caesaris Augusti saecla redire dedit"1

and Naldi:
lam mihi, Jam,Medices,te consultore redibant Aurea Saturnisaeclabenignasenis...15

With Cosimo Pater Patriae we may come a little closer to the heart of the problem. Why was he addressed in such terms? One answer might be that the claim was true, as far as such claims ever can be. There is no doubt that Cosimo, no less than Lorenzo, or perhaps more so, was a real patron of learning and the arts. But even if we accept all the calculations of Vespasiano da Bisticci about the money Cosimo spent on buildings, did he spend more on pious foundations and on the support of learning than, say, Chancellor Rolin, his exact contemporary in the north, founder of Beaune Hospital and the University of Louvain, patron of Jan van Eyck and Roger van der Weyden? My feeling is that there may be an additional reason for this strange and incongruous
12Selve, II, 121. 18 C. Landino, Carmina,ed. Perosa, Florence, 1939, p. 14 135. U. Verino, Flametta,ed. L. Mencaraglia, Florence, 1940, P. 1o7. 1" Naldo Naldi, Elegarium libri III, ed. L. JuhAsz, Leipzig, 1934, p. 89, lines 349-50.

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Cosimo's circle the pleasure of battle gives way to the romance of peace. And in this ancient dream of Aurea Pax I see one of the roots of the historiographic stereotype of an age where the arts of peace prospered under the tutelage of a beneficent genius. As Naldo Naldi makes Cosimo prophesy in a speech to the Milanese envoy:
Ancient Faith will returnand dispense Justice;
Peace, with her purple wreath, will visit the dwellings of Italy, And the sheep will graze safely in the fields.20 Frenzied Mars chained,

The temple of Janus will be closed,

It is the theme of pax et libertasthat appears on the reverse of the famous posthumous

309 medal of the Pater Patriae. We may no longer be able to accept these claims at their face value as Roscoe did. There was less liberty, less peace and less plenty in the Medicean age than the poets proclaimed, nor for that matter were lambs born with scarlet wool, as in the Fourth Eclogue. But could all the villas have been built in the countryside if the milder forces of influence and affluence had not gradually replaced the violence of local feuds as symbolized in the mediaeval towers of San Gimignano? The Renaissance did not have to "discover man"; and yet, there may be some truth in Vico's vision that every time the Age of Heroes ends an Age of Man may dawn at last.

Ed. cit., p. 49.

but it had been worked out in drawings.3 We should expect these to be among the drawings seized for the King on the death of his Premier Peintre and now in the Louvre, and interest is attached to any we should not be disappointed. Following the Aparticular painter's last statement. In the case of numbers in Guiffrey and Marcel's Inventaire desdessins et du Muse'e duMuseeduLouvre Charles Le Brun our curiosity is whetted by ge'neral the intriguing account left by Perrault: "I1 de Versailles,ecolefranfaise, vol. VIII, they avoit entrepris un grand travail, qui estoit are: 6368 (on the verso are sketches for a de peindre toutes les Actions principales de la 'Baptism'), a preliminary composition sketch en Tableaux de (P1. 40a); 6367, a more worked-out study for Vie de JESUS-CHRIST Chevalet de six " sept pieds de long sur the principal group (P1. 40c); 6398, Christ and St. John; 6396, three apostles (P1. 4od); quatre pieds & demy de haut. . . Il travailfut 6972, an apostle; 7044, an apostle; 6994, an la de maladie dont loit, lorsqu'il surpris il est mort, au Tableau de la Cene, qui devoit apostle fastening his sandal (P1. 40b). Le Brun was a firm believer in the need for estre, si l'on en juge par les Estudes qu'il avoit faites sur la maniere dont les Juifs historical accuracy, in so far as it could be celebrent la Pasque, encore plus beau & plus reconciled with the limitations of pictorial curieux que tous les autres."1 art,4 and seventeenth-century scholarship had The design was never committed to canvas not learnt to doubt the explicit Gospel (there is no record of such a subject in the inventory drawn up after Le Brun's death),2 Guillet de
Charles Perrault, Les Hommesillustres,Paris, I696, I, p. 92. The four completed paintings were 'The Raising of the Cross' (1685), 'Christ Carrying His Cross' (1687), 'The Adoration of the Shepherds' (i688), and 'The Entry into Jerusalem' (1689); each was presented to the king, and they now belong to the Louvre. Le Brun at that time was suffering bitterly from official neglect, and some indication of the care he lavished on these uncommissioned works is provided by the many drawings, some thirty for each, which are now in the Louvre. 2 Minutier Central, fonds LXV, liasse 126, 2 mars 1690.


Saint-Georges wrote: "Dans ces inter8 valles il fit les dessins de deux tableaux qu'il n'a pu peindre. Dans l'un il se proposait de repr6senter l'institution du Saint Sacrement ou la COne . . ." de l'Acadimie royale de (Mimoires inidits sur les membres ed. Dussieux etc., Paris, 1854, I, peintureet de sculpture, p. 47). The manuscript life of Le Brun by Nivelon also implies that Le Brun did not carry the subject beyond the stage of drawings (Paris, Bibl. Nat., MS. fonds fr. no. 12987, f. 379). 4 See in particular his lecture on Poussin's 'Israelites de l'Acadhnie Gathering Manna' (Fl61ibien, Confirences sur les vies et sur les ouvragesdesplus royale, in Entretiens excellens ed. of Trevoux, 1725, peintresancienset modernes, pp. 400-28).

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